You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Price of Vengeance-

Ziggy Dunbar was sitting in his cell, just "kickin' it." He had done time before, though this was just his second visit to the joint. State prison. No harder than his life on the streets. Ziggy knew his place here. He had protection, and he needed it. He wasn't particularly strong, and he knew he wasn't very smart. His place in the prison gang that protected him was not very high at all.

Still, the favors he provided for the boss prevented others from preying on him. Ziggy didn't like to think about those favors, but they did sometimes haunt his dreams. He didn't like to think about those dreams, or his crappy family or his sucky life. He mostly liked getting high, and just "kickin' it."

Ziggy was just too low on the food chain to have dreams, other than nightmares.

A shadow crossed in front of Ziggy. The hairs on the back of his scrawny neck stood up, and his bowels felt like they were full of water. He didn't move. Sometimes the predators passed on, if you didn't move.

"Hey, Ziggy." came a voice from the other side of the cell. "We need to talk."

Ziggy had heard that one before. It really meant "You have to listen." There was usually pain involved. Ziggy held on one moment more, and then looked up.

Cocoa Johnson sat on the bench in front of the small desk that made up the furniture in his small cell. Ziggy had felt lucky to be assigned to a cell too small to convert to double occupancy. He didn't feel so lucky, now. Cocoa made the room feel crowded. His lieutenant, Pepper Jones, stood just inside the door, and made the room seem like a tomb.

Standing just outside the door was another member of Cocoa's gang. Ziggy couldn't see much more than hunched shoulders and a bald head. That one was the look-out. Ziggy's spinning brain named him Paprika, a moment of cleverness born of desperation. Ziggy knew himself not to be clever, and so missed his own joke. He didn't know who the guy was, and didn't care.

Cocoa was rooting through a small paper bag that had been sitting on the desk. Ziggy's few little treats, purchased from the commissary. Ziggy didn't have much, and Cocoa confirmed it by not even bothering to steal anything. He dropped the bag back onto the desk, and then looked right at Ziggy.

Somehow, it would have made Ziggy feel better if the eyes looking at him were threatening. Angry eyes. Eyes filled with fury. These eyes were cold, looking at him with little interest. The eyes of a man with a job to do, and determination to do it.

"I don't know what in the hell you did on the streets, but you really pissed somebody off." said Cocoa. "We got orders to hurt you. Not kill you. Just hurt you. And when you heal from this hurt, we have to hurt you again."

Ziggy swallowed. His mouth was dry, but he worked up enough spit to croak out a question.

"How long?" he asked.

"Until this sucker stops paying for our 'service.'" answered Cocoa. "Whoever it is, he knows how things work here in prison. He knows, and he is pissed at you."

Ziggy tried to swallow, but could not. His one question used up all of the available liquids in his mouth, and he could find no more. His bowels felt like he was trying to keep in the contents of a lake, but his mouth was as dry as a desert.

"Getting to you this time was easy." said Cocoa. "Your boys don't know we have a contract on you. Next time might be harder. If it is, I suspect our visit might hurt that much more."

Ziggy's mind tried to race. Unfortunately, the track was short and he simply lacked the horsepower. He knew he was about to be injured, and he wouldn't be able to tell his boys anything. He had no idea how to keep them from figuring it out. Thinking was not going well, and Ziggy fell to hoping that they would just get this over with.

"Your friend from the street sent you a message." continued Cocoa. "He said for you to watch what you pick up from now on."

Pick up? What? The only thing that connected in his mind was his job, the one that got him into prison. Snatching purses for an identity theft ring. He only knew his contact, who paid him in drugs. Ziggy had been thrown to the police when they were closing in on the ring. Ziggy, his contact, and a few other nobodies went down for the crimes. As far as Ziggy knew, the big bosses were still out there cashing other people's checks.

"I will leave you to Pepper, now." said Cocoa, standing up. "He will definitely spice up your life."

Cocoa pressed past Pepper and exited the cell. Ziggy did not have to wait long. The pain began almost right away.

Carl Bergson finished his drink and pushed the empty glass toward the bartender. He counted out a few bills and paid the man, with a decent tip on top. Carl had regular habits, this drink in the evening being one of them. Same bar, same time, sometimes even the same stool. Carl stood and walked toward the door.

As he exited the bar he made brief eye contact with a young thug standing on the corner. The thug hid his momentary surprise pretty well, but Carl had been dealing with this type for quite some time. He recognized a tail when he saw one. The gang was already keeping tabs on him, and the deal was only a month old.

Carl walked quietly toward his apartment building, enjoying the dubious satisfaction of vengeance. That weasel Ziggy had really messed up Carl's life, stealing that purse. Carl's wife had one moment of inattention, and the identity theft that resulted was still causing them enormous grief. It was unfortunate for Ziggy that Carl ran in the same circles as his bosses. Granted, Carl's job was more legitimate, part of the system. Still, such grief from so small an act.

As he made his way up the stairs, Carl wondered just what he would do when they came. He knew they would come, those criminals with whom he had made the deal. So much a month to one of the inmates in the prison. Probably one of their up and coming leaders. In exchange, Ziggy was always going to be healing from one injury or another.

That had been the deal. Carl knew it would not end there. Someday the thug he made eye contact with would show up with a message. Him, or one like him. Some favor a gang boss required. It was the real price of vengeance.

Carl opened the door and was greeted by his wife. Together the went and sat down at the computer, with the phone at hand. They still had a terrible knot to untie, and little hope of being done soon. It may never really be over. Carl cursed Ziggy under his breath, and relished the knowledge that the nasty little man was about to receive another visit.

Carl would put a check in the mail first thing in the morning.

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